Candidates for Portland City Council took questions on Friday from people who are or have been homeless at a forum by the advocacy group Homeless Voices for Justice.
Not surprisingly, issues around housing affordability, homelessness and the opioid crisis dominated the forum. How the candidates would deal with those issues, though, differed.
Councilor Belinda Ray supported the proposal to build a large new shelter in a residential neighborhood, a proposal which hasn't been popular with many in the Nason's corner neighborhood or with those in the homeless community.
“I do think it's a good proposal, but we understand that there was a lot of pushback, and people wanted to make sure the city was thorough in investigating all its possibilities,” said Ray. “So the city has gone out and done a second look.”
Ray is being opposed by Matthey Coffey, who is himself homeless, and who opposes the shelter proposal.
“As far as this giant shelter that they want to build way out in Timbuktu, I think that's a lousy idea,” Coffey said.
In the District 2 race to represent part of Portland's downtown peninsula, Council member Spencer Thibodeaou is being challenged by Jonathan Torsch, a democratic socialist. Thibodeau says he'll work to get the city to adopt a "housing first" model for dealing with homelessness.
“Because we realize that that's the most effective tool to combat homelessness, and long-term homelessness, overnight,” Thibodeaou said. “I say to you today that if I am reelected, I will continue to try to work on those issues.”
Torsch says he is troubled by the housing market and would like to look toward finding less market-based solutions to what he calls "working class issues."
“What i'd like to do is make sure that working class issues issues are first and foremost in what the council is taking on, and make sure that the people who are doing this work, the people actually on the ground who know what the right solutions are, are brought to the table,” Torsch says.
In the at-large race to represent the whole city on the Council, longtime Council member Nick Mavadones is being challenged by Joey Brunelle, who has been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America's southern Maine chapter.
“I think too many people are struggling to pay their rent, too many people are being convicted for B.S. reasons, too many are being forced out of their homes because of Airbnbs,” said Brunelle. “We need to do more to make sure that the people of Portland, that everyone has a place to live.”
Mavadones stayed away from specific calls for action on affordability, but said action on finding a new location for the city's homeless shelter is urgent.
“We need to come up with the right location or locations, and move something forward as expeditiously as we possibly can,” Mavadones said.
The National Association of Realtors recently spent $7,300 on online ads to support Mavadones, ads which both he and Brunelle have condemned.
All six candidates said they would continue the city's longstanding commitment to provide a low-barrier homeless shelter, and all expressed either a commitment to, or an interest in, the "housing first" model for housing the homeless, in which homeless people are provided with housing with no pre-conditions.